State House passes bill denying juvenile lifers sentenced before 2012 shot at parole

Feb 4, 2014

So-called “juvenile lifers” in Michigan would not get a chance at parole under a bill approved Tuesday by the state House. That’s unless the Michigan Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court rule otherwise.

Senate Bill 319 would bring Michigan into compliance with a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. It said automatically sentencing minors to life in prison without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual. But it did not say whether the ruling applied to those already serving those sentences.

“Where’s the humanity or justice in a legislature giving the opportunity for parole to one juvenile but not the other?” asked Rep. Rudy Hobbs, D-Southfield, during debate over the bill on the House floor. “Today, these young people and their advocates are asking us for the opportunity at redemption. And I support this opportunity for all juveniles.”

Supporters of the bill, including Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, say giving juvenile lifers a chance at resentencing would be too painful for victims’ families.

But some lawmakers who voted ‘yes’ on the bill say they simply want to offer guidance to judges who are dealing with these cases and finally bring Michigan law into compliance with the 2012 ruling.

“There’s no winners and losers in this – it’s pain all around,” said state House Criminal Justice Committee Chair Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth Township. “And I’m grateful that it’s over, that we have some closure and some direction going forward. But for these families involved, I don’t see any closure or any happiness.”

There are currently about 350 juvenile lifers in Michigan.

The bill now goes to the state Senate, which passed an earlier version of the bill last year. It will need to approve changes made in the House.